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Stem cell research: U-M student delivers documentary of hope

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A University of Michigan pre-med student majoring in film wanted to make a difference for his grandmother with Alzheimer's.

So he produced a film.

"Life is for the Living," an award-winning documentary about stem cell research, was created by U-M student Michael Rubyan. He wanted to educate the public about the complex issues surrounding stem cell research and the hope that it provides to people suffering from debilitating diseases and injuries.

Rubyan, now a senior, became fascinated with stem cell research as a freshman after hearing Sean Morrison, director of the U-M Center for Stem Cell Biology, and others speak about the issue at a meeting on the Ann Arbor campus.

"I was absorbed by the personal stories that were shared and how they connected to this scientific and political issue," Rubyan said.

Partnering with his mother, filmmaker Deborah Orley, Rubyan set out to tell the stories of families, scientists and political leaders working on this issue.

"We believe that ordinary people in this country can apply their talents and commitment and actually do something to help change the world," Rubyan said.

More importantly for Rubyan, a West Bloomfield, Mich. native, the film shares the stories of six American families living with the painful realities of juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's and spinal cord injury set against the national debate over embryonic stem cell research.

Both Rubyan and Orley had personal reasons to learn more about stem cell research.

Orley's grandmother had Parkinson's disease and Rubyan's grandmother had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's. They were particularly interested in how stem cell research had the potential to find new treatments and cures for these diseases and many more.

As we worked on the film, our commitment and resolve strengthened and our goal remained clear: to tell a compelling story and help educate the public about this complex issue. Every time someone sees our film and learns something from it, we know we have had the positive impact that we set out to achieve," Rubyan said.

The film premiered in March at the Michigan Theater to more than 1,000 people and has screened around the country including California, Missouri, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

Rubyan plans to apply to medical school. Outside of class, he regularly tours with his film at festivals, conferences and screenings around the country.

The film includes an introduction by U-M alumnus and CBS 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace and interviews with top U-M and national scientists and experts, including former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

The film will kick off a statewide tour with free public screenings and question-and-answer sessions, including:

  • Royal Oak: Main Art Theater, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15.
  • Bloomfield Hills: Maple Art Theater, 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Oct.16.
  • Ann Arbor: The Michigan Theater, 7 p.m. Oct. 22, sponsored by the U-M Council for Disability Concerns, Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, U-M Department of Kinesiology, Eastern Michigan University Campus Life and U-M Health System.
  • Flint: The Flint Institute of Arts, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23.
  • Grand Rapids: The Wealthy Theater, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29.
  • The film was created by Rubyan as an independent film project in conjunction with the University of Michigan's University Activities Center. The film is owned and copyrighted by MAR Productions, Rubyan's production company.


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Stem cell research: U-M student delivers documentary of hope